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I'm developing a website for a client of mine. A man who is doing on-site automotive work (e.g. the side of a road). He also does work in peoples driveways.

He recently got some calls from people out of state requesting car help, because he didn't want to miss an opportunity for more work and spreading the word about his business, he went ahead and went to the out of state house to work on their car.

He has decided to start charging people a little bit extra (relatively) for people at certain distances away from his home (work center point). I'm developing the site for him, so he wants me to include this information on the site.

I'm creating (using the Google Maps API) a map that will display his work location, and 'zones'. If your in 'x' zone you pay 'x' amount for his travel time. People living within 'x' miles wouldn't pay for travel costs. All of the distances and prices would be listed on the site.

The Problem

After talking with some others about this idea (after getting approval from my client), I got some negative feedback towards the idea. I was told I shouldn't include information about the travel charges.

Their Point of View

If I was looking for car care, I wouldn't be happy if I found out that I have another $45 charge because I live one street out of the bounds (i.e. out of the 'free' zone). I would already be set slightly demotivated towards using his services. If I called and was told while on the phone, however, I would like it more because I wouldn't know that others had it cheaper and, therefor wouldn't think much of the extra travel charges.

My Point of View

When I'm price comparing, I want to know any charges up front that could apply to my situation (shipping, reoccurring charges, etc.). In this case, I want the people searching for car repair to know that a travel charge may apply to them if they live a certain distance away from the owner. Surprising a customer with unexplained costs over the phone doesn't sound ethical. I feel that it could make the business almost look 'shady' or 'unethical'.

The Question

So, is it better to explain all of the details before hand, or keep the details to prevent negative feelings?

If you have your own opinion, feel free to state it!

Thanks!

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Not really a UX problem, is it? Not sure what site would be most appropriate, but I don't think it's here. –  John C Aug 18 '11 at 13:40
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No it's a UX problem. The way these charges are presented definitely affects the user's experience and perception of the company. –  Matt Rockwell Aug 18 '11 at 13:43
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@John It's a copywriting/content strategy problem, which is part of the overall user experience of the product. I think this question is relevant, and so do a dozen other people, judging by the number of upvotes. –  Rahul Aug 18 '11 at 14:03
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@John - The user experiences encompasses the user's impression from the second they reach the website until the second they leave, or if they choose to do business, until the transaction is finished. –  Matt Rockwell Aug 18 '11 at 14:15
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@John - Also, the user's decisions are a affected by the user experience. –  Matt Rockwell Aug 18 '11 at 14:17

3 Answers 3

up vote 20 down vote accepted

I strongly believe that the user should know all of the charges. I think you should give the user a final calculated value and not go into much detail about the travel charge. In other words, say that there is a travel charge, show the amount and end it there. Additionally, the users usually aren't interested about charges unrelated to them, so also avoid giving values that correspond to charges outside the user's region.

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So should I scratch the map completely and just let clients type in their address to calculate a travel cost? –  Xan Aug 18 '11 at 0:42
    
Expense calculators, when implemented right tend to have a positive impact on user experience. Have a look at Rackspace's calculator here: http://www.rackspace.com/cloud/cloud_hosting_products/servers/pricing/. Addresses are fine but other ideas also include letting the user pick their location on a map or possibly using location-aware capabilities when the users access the site through a mobile. –  Chris Smith Aug 18 '11 at 0:47
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@DalexL: When using location awareness, just be sure that it is clear the price is dependent on the location. The mobile user may not be at the location of the car when using the site... –  Marjan Venema Aug 18 '11 at 7:08
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+1 - I think that when people realize there are zones where one is more expensive than other, they automatically think it's annoying that they are only just outside the cheaper zone. It's an instant negative emotion because you tell/show them here's your cost, but look there's a cheaper option which you can't have. Much better for the user not to see that extra information about the cheaper cost, which doesn't apply to them anyway, and for them to just see that the calculation has been made correctly according to their address. –  Roger Attrill Aug 18 '11 at 9:19
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"users usually aren't interested about charges unrelated to them" agree. When you're shopping on websites that charge variable shipping rates, they ask for your zip code. I don't care what the rates are to Alaska. Depending on how geographically big zip codes are in your area, you could potentially use those - it makes the pricing relatively easy to understand. –  Jonathan Aug 18 '11 at 16:48

How about calculating the travel charge as a linear function of the distance (or, even better, estimated driving distance) instead of as an 'unfair' step function? I.e. charge customers $45 per mile for every mile, or fraction thereof, over 1 mile (or whatever) from the 'work center point'.

Example: if a potential customer requests a quote for service, your website would calculate the distance between the customer's service location and the work center point; let's assume it's 2.3 miles. The travel fee would be calculated as $45 × (2.3 - 1.0) = $58.50.

That way there's no unfair $45 fee for requesting service one block from another location where the same 'fee' is $0.

And instead of displaying zones, you could simply calculate the travel fee for a location specified by the user. That would increase the cognitive and temporal costs for users to compare travel fees among different locations.

An alternative is to decrease the size of the 'steps' for calculating the travel fee so that the smallest 'jump' in fee amounts is only $5-10 (or whatever), instead of $45 (or whatever).

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+1 this was the first response that occurred to me upon reading the question. Artificial step functions in business always seem like a bad idea to me, and they occur in many places. Public transport pricing zones are similar to the OP's case, and another class of examples is, if your income is below $x you are eligible for <some government benefit>. Another example: local (Australian) car companies have objected to the government's star rating system for energy efficiency as being too coarsely quantized (so they want to get rid of it, haha). –  Hugh Allen Jan 2 '13 at 22:10

Keep it vague. Say something like "travel charges may apply to extended locations, contact us for details." This way, if you do live one street out of bounds, the business owner has the option to waive the fee, negotiate it, etc. Who knows, maybe it's a big job that he is charging a lot for anyway and decides that he would rather take the job and forget about the travel fee. As stated, living just outside of the bounds could make the customer frustrated and generate negative feelings that could be completely avoided in a one to one conversation.

Handling it in a case per case situation gives both parties more flexibility to negotiate, and it also brings a personal touch to the service. A map with boundaries seems too cookie cutter.

From the impression I get from your description, this man is a small business owner, as opposed to a larger business. He may want to have a chance to get every potential customer, rather than pushing some away. What if it's a Tuesday morning, he gets a call and happens to already be in their extended area? He would prob cut a deal and not charge anything. All these things should be taken into context, and usually with small businesses there is a great deal of flexibility.

Large corporations can afford to have blanket charges and turn away customers but small businesses often thrive from their personal touch.

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This is an interesting and courageous comment. I upvoted because I'm wondering if THIS COMMUNITY is "right now" exhibiting typical user behavior. We all know to pay more attention to what the behavior is, as compared to the comments. How many voted for the "full disclosure" answer because that is what they believe to be correct/right, when in fact they would actually prefer a site that is honest but leaves the details TBD. Just wondering, guys & gals... :) –  Kevin M Aug 18 '11 at 17:29
    
I agree that full disclosure is typically a good practice. I don't think that people are realizing that in context of a smaller business that it could limit their flexibility. In the case of a large company, I would agree with the full disclosure answer no doubt about it, that is full disclosure in the sense that many sites do it by entering zip code etc. –  Matt Rockwell Aug 18 '11 at 17:36
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Actually "keeping it vague" may be "full disclosure", when being matched by the business philosophy. I mean the worst thing would be to display fixed rates per street whereas in reality, the business owner is rather flexible about that. (Large companies are not flexible in that, so that showing the fees up front is part of the transparancy of their pre-defined process.) –  giraff Aug 25 '11 at 6:44

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